Even after a weekend in which Florida dispatched the No. 3 team in the country by 28 points — and, frankly, could have beaten Mississippi by more — it's startling to realize the top story on ESPN.com on this Monday afternoon has Florida ranked at No. 1 for good reasons.
And yet, this is true and real.
The problem? That story, by Ryan McGee, is really more about Florida's degree of difficulty in getting to its 5-0 record than Florida's performance on the way.
After five weekends of college football, the list of FBS schools with an unblemished record is a motley crew -- some we expected to see, others we did not and none of them has had an easy road to get to something-and-oh, especially not the ones we assumed would breeze into October.
So how do the paths taken by these imperfect squads to perfect win-loss columns stack up? Here at Flipping the Field, we've gladly done that ranking for you. Just be sure to read it before Week 6 ... because the way this season is tumbling along, there is no refuge for sure bets, especially not ones with a zero on the righthand side of the dash.
Heck, the first words of the blurb about Florida are careful to caution that the Gators are not the best team in college football.
1. Florida Gators (5-0): Are they the best team in the nation? No. But they have run the most impressive obstacle course to undefeated (even according to the non-eye test numbers), with victories over American contender East Carolina, at 4-1 Kentucky, Tennessee and then-No. 3 Ole Miss.
That link goes to Florida's profile in ESPN's unfortunately opaque Football Power Index (FPI), which shows Florida ranked No. 1 in "Strength of Record," with a mark of 94.7. What's Strength of Record?
Strength of Record: Reflects chance that an average Top 25 team would have team's record or better, given the schedule. On a 0 to 100 scale, where 100 is best.
Is that a 94.7 percent chance that an average top 25 team would be 5-0 over Florida's schedule? A 94.7 percent chance that an average top 25 team wouldn't be 5-0 against the Gators' slate? Is Florida's performance against its schedule in the 94.7th percentile? I don't know, and ESPN's unlikely to give a great explanation of what that number means, especially given the explanation you get when Googling "strength of record" is confusing on its own.
But the point here is that Florida's not No. 1 — it's just No. 1 in a arbitrary ranking of teams by an ESPN writer which is loosely based on another semi-arbitrary ranking of teams by a formula ESPN has steadfastly refused to explain. (Even if FPI is the most brilliant formula for ranking college football teams ever, it would behoove ESPN to pull back the curtain a bit at this juncture.)
This week is a heady time for the Gators, and for Florida fans: Both groups will (rightly, to a degree) be reveling in that victory over Mississippi and feeling themselves as a result. And there are ways in which you can contort Florida's performance this season into a truly impressive résumé, no doubt.
But it's important — more important for players than fans, obviously — to also keep perspective.
College football allows for mercurial rises. And it also permits mercurial falls.